1. Follow Up: More Toynbee Tiles / House of Hades Stuff


    Flickr user rtype17 passes along a House of Hades tile he found in LA’s Pershing Square

    Our post on the history of the Toynbee Tiles and their various homages (House of Hades, that little mummy guy you see in crosswalks everywhere) still gets a good amount of traffic and comment activity so I thought I’d follow up with a few more notes on the subject:

    + Netflix is streaming Resurrect Dead, the excellent documentary on the search for who is behind the Toynbee Tiles. (Filmmaker’s page)

    + There’s a Google Map showing the location of Toynbee Tiles around Philadelphia, ground zero for the Toynbee Phenomenon

    + The perennially badass Becky Stern over at Makesine brings an excellent how-to video on making your own Toynbee-style linoleum tiles. From back in 2009 (yeah, I totally slept on that one)

    + Oh and in your wanderings, ignore links to toynbee.net. It’s dead an gone, now linking to a site that has something to do with toys, not tiles.


  2. A Futuristic Buddy Cop Staring Whoopi Goldberg and a Dinosaur. WTF?

    Someone get a man in as there’s something wrong with time and space. Somehow this thing– this movie– came over from some awful bizarro world alternate universe where Gilbert Godfried is President and KFC sells Wolly Mammoth thigh. That can be the only logical explanation.

    Yes, someone in 1995 really thought a movie set in the the future where Whoopi Goldberg teams up with a dinosaur named Theodore Rex was a good idea.

    Theodore Rex Trailer

    Theodore Rex, Best of the Worst

  3. Play Katamari On Any Webpage

    Here’s me, making a dung ball of Wikipedia.

    Yes friends, the future we’ve been wanting is trickling in. Can’t guild the lily on this one so I’m just going to tell you how to get to the awesome.

    Using any HTML5-ready browser (I used the latest Safari but I imagine Chrome would work too, maybe Firefox 4) navigate to a page you want to roll up into a giant ball and then open a separate tab and navigate to here for instructions:


    When they say Address Bar, they mean the part where you put in the URL.

    Right mouse clicks guide the ever increasing ball and you need to click a lot. Be warned, though, that eventually the music kicks in.

  4. China’s Moon Shot Rains Rocket Parts on the Countryside

    chinese rocket parts

    China sent their unmanned lunar probe Chang’e II (nickname: Moon Safari?) skywards last Friday, packing the usual assortment of stereo cameras, laser spectrometers and microwave detectors to scour the lunar surface as it orbits the moon for six months or better.  What it didn’t take with it, however, was a few large chunks of its launch rocket.  These fell to earth two days later, landing in a rural part of Jiangxi, China.

    Villagers thought they were being struck by an earthquake as the debris crashed down.  Luckily, no one was hurt and no structures were impacted.  While snarkier blogs than this one will no doubt bag on China’s devil-may-care approach to space debris management, I’m just glad no one was hurt.  Besides, there’s not a space program out there (not even Mr. Veer’s), that has its hands completely clean.

    Remember Skylab?  Australia does.

    Take a closer look at the above photo for the real story, however.  Can anyone spot the time-traveling member of Starfleet hanging out with a knowing grin?

    C’mon.  The evidence is all there.

    1. He’s bald.  The future belongs to the follicly neglected.
    2. There’s a shiny communicator pin on his left pec.
    3. His uniform color seems to indicate he’s some kind of medical officer (help me out here, Trekkies, it’s been awhile), an obvious choice to send back on a mission of peace.

    I’m just disappointed they didn’t send Worf.

    The only mysterious bit is his smoking.  Can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone lighting up on the USS Enterprise or even in the shady corridors of Deep Space 9.  Maybe it’s one of those things you indulge in as a man from the future when you’re hanging out in primitive cultures, kind of like how it’s OK to drink Beast Ice when you’re back in the sticks with your high school buddies for Thanksgiving or something.

    Mysteries upon mysteries.  Readers: keep me posted if you see this guy hanging out in the frame of any other rocket crashes, meteorite landings, or swap meets.


    Photo from news.163.com

  5. Animals at War

    Following up on yesterday’s post about the Taliban’s dastardly plans to pit monkey mettle vs. the infidels, I got thinking about humanity’s tendency to enlist our animal friends in human wars.  While animals were absolutely vital to pre-modern combat–war horses, Hannibal’s elephant, pack mules, homing pigeons–the advent of mechanized warfare has made animal contributions to human conflicts somewhat more rare.  Still, the 20th century and the early 21st have seen their fair share of attempts to ace the enemy in hand-to-paw/flipper/wing combat.  Dig, if you will:

    The U.S.’s Bat Bombs – In the midst of WWII, someone got the bright idea to try to make a wide ranging cluster bomb out of hibernating bats, an empty bomb canister and small, bat-sized incendiary bombs to burn down Japanese villages.  Yeah.  Never got beyond the testing phase, due to it being a largely Rube Goldberg approach to a tactic that Curtis LeMay was having a lot of fun with in a more conventional, war-crimesy sort of way.  Murdoc Online gives a nice summary of the book Bat Bomb that details the project.

    Fake Ghost Foxes – In another effort to use animals to mess with the Japanese, American psy-ops (allegedly) went so far as to release ghostly dyed foxes off the coast of Japan with the aim of alarming the superstitious Japanese.  Word has it the dye washed off before the foxes could stir up too much fear.

    Post-Katrina Killer Dolphins – As if the storm surge, crumbling levees and marauding trigger-happy cops weren’t bad enough, rumor went around that some of the Navy’s dolphins got loose, dolphins that may or may not have been trained to kill with fin-mounted poison dart guns.  Says accident investigator Leo Sheridan:

    My concern is that they have learnt to shoot at divers in wetsuits who have simulated terrorists in exercises. If divers or windsurfers are mistaken for a spy or suicide bomber and if equipped with special harnesses carrying toxic darts, they could fire,’ he said. ‘The darts are designed to put the target to sleep so they can be interrogated later, but what happens if the victim is not found for hours?

    Snopes rated this tale a ‘probably not’ but the Navy does acknowledge that it has trained dolphins for mine detection and port security.  Just maybe not underwater assassinations.  Check out our valiant fighting sea mammals at their 1996-tastic home page.

    Anti-Panzer Dog Bombs – To combat the German’s speedy armored attacks, the Soviets came up with low-cost, low-tech guided bombs: dogs.  In training, dogs were starved, then released to find food under Soviet tanks.  In true Pavlovian form, the dogs began to associate the underside of tanks with food.  From there, it was a simple matter of strapping a bomb to the dog and taking them out to the battlefield to assault the undersides of Nazi tanks with their suicide attacks.  According to Damn Interesting, this tactic managed to take out 300 vehicles by 1942.  The practice came to an end in that year, though, when a squad of dogs forced a Soviet division’s retreat when they, basically, went nuts.  With bombs attached.  Quite a mental picture.

    This tactic has since been used, with less success, by insurgents in Iraq.

    Stalin’s Ape-men – This is a bit of s a stretch because it unlike the bat bombs and the monkey gunner, it wasn’t even possible.  Still, in the 1920s, a directive came on high to Soviet scientist Ilia Ivanov to create a race of half ape sorta-super soldiers.  The orders called for human-ape hybrids that would possess “immense strength but with an underdeveloped brain” that were less susceptible to pain and hunger.  As you might imagine, the attempt to create such ape-men was a little more than creepy:

    His archived reports show the Pasteur Institute in Paris let him use a research station in Guinea, West Africa, for ape-breeding research.

    And he wrote to the ruling Politburo: “The biggest problem is to catch living females.” Researchers learned to torch trees and chase apes into cages as they scampered down.

    Ivanov reported that African women had been seized to be impregnated with ape sperm, but no pregnancy resulted. Female gorillas were set to receive human sperm.  (via the Free Republic)

    As you might recall, the ’20s was a time when Soviet science made a mad giddy break from the accumulated years of “capitalist science”, leading to other such innovations as devastating famines and a lot of real scientists getting shipped off to Siberia.

  6. Simians and Scimitars: The Taliban’s Alleged Monkey Soldiers

    This is what we call Slow News Day Gold.  China’s People’s Daily Online reports:

    Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents are training monkeys to use weapons to attack American troops, according to a recent report by a British-based media agency.

    Reporters from the media agency spotted and took photos of a few “monkey soldiers” holding AK-47 rifles and Bren light machine guns in the Waziristan tribal region near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The report and photos have been widely spread by media agencies and Web sites across the world.

    According to the report, American military experts call them “monkey terrorists.”

    What we have here, gentlemen, is a monkey gap.  And I for one won’t stand around waiting for these furballs to start shooting up Des Moines before I do something about it.  I am hereby requesting $25 million from the Defense Department for the training of patriotic anti-simian sloth soldiers.  Oh and a $3 million extension for crystal meth.  For the sloths, I swear.

    The People’s Daily was also kind enough to give an audio recording of a text to speech voice reading the article, greatly increasing the meme potential by taking that first step towards a remix.  Dust off those jungle sample CDs and get cracking!

  7. Thanks, Internet.

    And now let’s take time out for some appalling clip art.

    Thanks Photoxpress!  Now I can ruminate all day on the sort of diseased mind that’s thinking ‘Hmm… somewhere out there there’s a man who needs a computer generated graphic of a broken seven-armed bald woman for his PowerPoint presentation.’

  8. We’re Number One: Pee Your Way to Carbon Neutrality

    don't pee on power lines

    Remember when I sang the praises of ass-powered electrical generation?  Yeah, well, that’s just the half of the juice you’re flushing away.  Or drinking as part of a bizarre training regimenGerardine Botte of Ohio University has been working on a method of pulling hydrogen out of urine for future fuel cells and Hindenburgs.

    Tell ’em Chemistry World:

    Botte says the idea came to her several years ago at a conference on fuel cells, where they were discussing how to turn clean water into clean power. ‘I wondered how we could do this better,’ she adds – so started looking at waste streams as a better source of molecules from which to produce hydrogen.

    Urine’s major constituent is urea, which incorporates four hydrogen atoms per molecule – importantly, less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water molecules. Botte used electrolysis to break the molecule apart, developing an inexpensive new nickel-based electrode to selectively and efficiently oxidise the urea. To break the molecule down, a voltage of 0.37V needs to be applied across the cell – much less than the 1.23V needed to split water.

    Awesome.  To enable this technology, may I suggest we start designing facilities that take a cue from the urine-diverting latrines I was lucky enough to use down in the bateyes in the D.R.?  Two processes, two routes for the gold.

    I’m also interested to hear if this electrolysis process can be adapted to solar energy storage schemes or to use the viral scaffolding technique for splitting off hydrogen that was recently reported by MIT researchers. Picture it: every bathroom a power plant, every septic tank a goldmine.

    Get ready kids.  Your toilet handle’s about to start paying off better than a slot machine.

  9. Eating Dog in Microgravity

    What do you want to bet that when astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts and the rest get together and shoot the bull, the question comes up: “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten in space?”

    Chinese space pilot Yang Liwei has a pretty good trump card for that: the menu on the 2003 Shenzhou Five mission included dog.  Y’know, for stamina.

    The Telegraph reports:

    A local proverb in the south of China is that “Huajiang dog is better for you than ginseng”, referring to the medicinal root that plays a vital role in traditional Chinese medicine.

    He added that the diet had been specially drawn up for the astronauts by Chinese nutritionists and that the food had been purchased from special suppliers in Beijing. Dog is widely eaten in northern China, where it is believed to help battle the winter cold. The menu was still in use last year, when Chinese astronauts conducted their first ever spacewalk. China has plans to land a man on the moon by 2020.

    No word on whether that spacewalk was a foraging mission through the toasted remains of Sputnik 2 for some Laika jerky.

    Still, braised bits of Man’s Best Friend work better than some ill-advised food experiments.  While the early restriction of space food to tubes and dehydrated slabs was due to an excess of caution rather than actual conditions, foods eaten by astronauts have to meet certain criteria of nutrition, digestibility and environmental concerns.  For example, a contraband corned beef sandwich smuggled aboard a Gemini mission by astronaut John Young wrecked havoc when little crumbs of rye bread floated around the cabin in microgravity, not to mention filling the tiny, airtight cockpit with the smell of corned beef for the duration of the journey.

    For this reason, conventional sliced bread rarely makes it into space.  U.S. missions favor tortillas, potentially a future point of collaboration with the nascent Mexican space program.  (Yes, Mexico has a space program.  No, it doesn’t ferry orca-nauts.)

    Perhaps the most intense space food initiative in recent years was the development of space-worthy kimchi for Korean astronaut Ko San:

    Three top government research institutes spent millions of dollars and several years perfecting a version of kimchi that would not turn dangerous when exposed to cosmic rays or other forms of radiation and would not put off non-Korean astronauts with its pungency.

    We all sleep soundly knowing that the finest minds in food science have protected us for the consequences of allowing cosmic-ray mutated kimchi to unleash it’s wrath upon human civilization. (Pretty sure those consequences made it into a 70s issue of the Fantastic Four)